20 years on: Silverton group holds vigils for peace, advocates for justice

January 2023 Posted in Community, People

By James Day

Silverton People for Peace, a group that formed amid the buildup to the 2003 start of the Iraq War, has turned 20.

Members of Silverton People for Peace gather last January for their annual MLK Day observance. The group has been holding vigils for 20 years. Submitted Photo

Members of Silverton People for Peace gather last Januaryfor their annual MLK Day observance. The group has been holding vigils for 20 years.               Submitted Photo


The informal group, which began with vigils in opposition to the Iraq buildup, has broadened its focus and also participates in Silverton’s MLK Day observances as well as the Homer Davenport Community Festival, where its peace dove has been a parade highlight, and more regional events in Salem and elsewhere.

“SPFP from the its beginning has partnered with or supported other groups and events that advocate for peace and social justice issues,” said longtime participant Robert Sisk. “It continues to look for opportunities to make a difference and be ‘more than just a presence.’ ”

Key members in addition to Sisk include Aaron Embree and Ann Durrant.

Silverton People for Peace has transitioned beyond being a one-issue organization as it was at the start of the Iraq War. Key goals that SPFP advocates for, Sisk noted, include:

1. Non-violent conflict resolution at all levels of society;

2. Sensitivity, tolerance and equity for all races and ethnicities and sexual orientations, as well as inclusion and appreciation of diversity;

3. Economic justice for all and an awareness of injustice and damage caused by corporate greed;

4. Affordable, accessible health care as a right for all; and

5. Environmental justice and personal responsibility for the health and welfare of the planet.

Attendance has been as high as 40 for vigils with either extremely hot or cold and rainy weather often influencing the turnout. The group held its vigil as planned last month on the day after Christmas and in 117-degree heat in the famous “heat dome” of June 2021.

“SPFP is not a structured organization. There are no regular meetings and officers, etc.,” Sisk said. “One of our original members termed it a ‘tribal’ model. SPFP communicates and makes decisions via a listserve which anybody can join by registering their email.”

The Iraq War is long gone, but Sisk notes that “in our vigil messaging, we continue to spotlight the terror and destruction all wars bring.”

Sisk added that research from SPFP member Rose Hope shows there are currently more than 30 armed conflicts around the world, including Ethiopia, Yemen, and Ukraine. Silverton People for Peace members have participated in a street rally on the Russian invasion of Ukraine in conjunction with Oregon Peaceworks and the Salem chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

The peace pole that the Silverton Rotary Club installed in 2017 at the site of the monthly peace vigils. James Day

The peace pole that the Silverton Rotary Club installed in 2017 at the site of the monthly peace vigils. James Day

When asked how the group measures success, Sisk responded:

“It’s easy to start a peace group when many are outraged about an impending conflict. It is hard to keep it going when disillusionment and frustration sets in. Most groups that sprang up in opposition to the Iraq War have disappeared. It is very rewarding to note as the vigils have continued, the sporadic obscene gesture and heckling have disappeared, replaced by enthusiastic, supportive honking and waves from drive-by traffic which seems grateful to see us.

“Success for SPFP is not just continuing to exist after 20 years, but believing our presence and efforts to continually advocate for peace through social justice contributes in some way to Silverton as a caring and friendly community, sensitive and responsive to social justice issues.

“The responses we get with our parade entry and by attendance at our annual MLK observance shows an overall appreciation and support for our presence and efforts. That is reason and success enough to continue existing.”

Silverton People for Peace

For information on Silverton People for Peace events or how to participate email [email protected] or call him at 503-873-5307.

MLK dinner, address at Grange

The annual Silverton MLK Day observances is Monday, Jan. 16, at the Silverton Grange, 201 Division St. NE. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the event begins at 6. Food security activist and local columnist Joel Autry will give the keynote address. The event is free, open to the public and includes a potluck, songs and readings. Masks are strongly encouraged. Donations are accepted and will benefit the Grange and Silverton Area Community Aid.

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